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Ryans among SEC friends in Hawaii

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DeMeco Ryans says the SEC competition helped him adjust to the NFL quickly.

KAPOLEI, Hawaii - DeMeco Ryans is the Texans' lone Pro Bowler this year, but that doesn't mean that he's among strangers this week.

In fact, Ryans may feel like he's back in college thanks to the 13 other players from the Southeastern Conference that are participating in the 2008 Pro Bowl. There are more Pro Bowlers from the SEC than any other college football conference this year, and a game-high 10 of those players will start this Sunday in the annual all-star game.

Ryans starred as a linebacker at Alabama, where he was named the 2005 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

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"That's understandable," Ryans said of the SEC representation in Hawaii this year. "SEC is the best conference in college football, so it's understandable that you're going to have a lot of SEC guys out here.

"It just says that we have the best athletes in the country. All of the best athletes are trying to go to the SEC to play ball, because they know that's where the best competition is."**

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On the AFC squad,* *Ryans is joined by a pair of Tennessee Vols in Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Steelers guard Alan Faneca and Colts running back Joseph Addai represent LSU, while Chargers tackle Marcus McNeill (Auburn), Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (Georgia) and Jaguars running back Fred Taylor (Florida) round out the team.

Representing the NFC are six former SEC players, including two Arkansas Razorbacks in Cowboys free safety Ken Hamlin and Eagles guard Shawn Andrews. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is another Tennesssee Vol, while 49ers rookie linebacker Jason Willis attended Ole Miss and Vikings fullback Tony Richardson matriculated at Auburn. The only other player with Alabama ties is Redskins tackle Chris Samuels.

"I talked to him for a minute my first night here," Ryans said of Samuels. "We sat and talked for a while, just catching up on friends of friends, guys that we all knew (in college). It was just very good to see a former 'Bama guy out here and for him to get in the Pro Bowl. We're hoping to get a lot more 'Bama guys out here in the Pro Bowl. But like I said, it's always good when you're out here and you see a familiar face and someone that you know."

{QUOTE}Although more players from the Atlantic Coast Conference were voted to the 2008 Pro Bowl (15) compared to the SEC (13), because of injuries and personal reasons, only 13 former ACC players made the trip this year.

After his four years in Tuscaloosa, Ryans knows well the caliber of talent that he faced in college. It's because of that competition that Ryans adjusted so quickly to the pro level and became the player he is today – a first-time Pro Bowl starter and 2006 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"That's exactly what it is," Ryans said. "When you go to the SEC, you know you're going to be playing against the best competition. So in turn, making the transition from the SEC to the NFL, it's a smooth transition for all the guys that played in the SEC because they're used to the high competition level week in and week out."

If familiarity breeds contempt, though, Ryans isn't holding any intra-conference grudges from his days in the SEC. So far he's enjoying the company and sharing some old stories with players that he battled at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium and on the road at places like Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Ryans and McNeill have spoken about their college rivalry.

"It's all fun and games out here," Ryans said. "It's good to see a familiar face when you get selected to come out here. I'm still upset that I never got a chance to beat (McNeill), but they did a great job and he's a great player."
Ryans is happy that he doesn't have to face McNeill this week, but he will line up across from Samuels.

"I faced him once before when we played the Redskins (in 2006)," Ryans said. "Hopefully, I won't have to see him too much on Sunday."

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